Administrators at a Singapore-based entertainment website recently discovered a new and effective method of shaming delinquent gamblers into paying their debts. The identities of 70 gamblers who owe money to various Asian casinos were recently published on a controversial website called, in English, “Wonderful World.” The debtors displayed on Wonderful World owe anywhere from thousands to millions of yuan to the casinos of Macau and surrounding Asian territories. Because collecting debts is illegal in China, casino administrators are hoping this virtual method of publicly shaming gamblers on the Internet will help recover some of their lost money.
How Wonderful World Works
The bilingual website that exposes deadbeat gamblers did not originate for that purpose. Wonderful World, available in English and Chinese, got its start as an entertainment and news site one year ago. At the beginning of the summer, however, Wonderful World began displaying a deadbeat gambler blacklist. The blacklist initially showcased the names, addresses, phone numbers, debt amounts, and photographs of gamblers who owed money, along with sarcastic quips about the personal character of the debtors.
The legality of this shaming method is questionable. When police expressed concern that Wonderful World's blacklist is an invasion of privacy, website managers removed some of the more excruciating personal details about debtors. Some information remains, however, and it is still hoped that the embarrassing site will compel guilty gamblers to step forward and pay their debts.
Wonderful World is managed by Charlie Choi Kei Ian. Choi is pleased with the results of his blacklist. He recently revealed that, since the blacklist came out two months ago, ten featured debtors have repaid money. Another representative of the site, known only as “Mr. Teng,” has commented that Wonderful World's administrators are happy to cooperate with authorities regarding privacy concerns. Teng's ultimate goal is for people to visit the site, as this should lead to the fulfillment of more debts.
How Debt Piles Up For High Rollers in Macau
The average gambler who budgets casino trips based on discretionary income alone may have a difficult time understanding how debt piles up for high rollers at casinos. In Macau, large lines of credit are often extended to preferred patrons, particularly the high rollers. Of course patrons' credit history and asset information is scrutinized before credit is extended, but because of Chinese law, that information cannot be used at a later time to collect debt.
Just as some people avoid paying credit card bills, mortgage notes, and child support installments, gamblers who find themselves drowning in excessive casino debt may avoid paying those bills. This problem is compounded by the fact that, due to the insatiable nature of gambling addiction, some people continue gambling when they can't afford to do so, racking up even more debt than before. The problem continues to snowball and there is no easy way for casinos or debtors to solve it.
China: A Shame Society
Culturally speaking, different nations use different tactics for keeping people in line. China is a “shame society,” meaning that the tactic of public shame is widely used as a tool to gain cooperation and control over people. China's reliance on shame to discipline citizens is related its affinity for Confucius, an Asian philosopher and teacher born in 551 B.C. Confucius valued loyalty, respect, and the importance of family. He espoused an early version of the "Golden Rule" in which citizens were advised to treat others as they wished to be treated. The teachings of Confucius still have a strong impact on Chinese society today.
Gambling Debt in the United States
Unpaid gambling debt occurs in the United States just as it does in Macau: High rollers are extended grandiose lines of credit which turn into debt and snowball out of control. Those who cannot, or will not, repay the money become delinquent on payments.
In the United States, courts take action on unpaid casino debts. Nevada courts processed approximately 100 such cases per week in 2011, according to the Las Vegas Sun. Even though deadbeats are actively prosecuted in Nevada, many of them still get away with their crimes. In 2012, approximately $128 million in unpaid debt slipped through the fingers of Nevada casino managers, according to the Nevada Gaming Control Board. The U.S. legal system simply cannot accommodate the vast number of casino debtor cases in its pipeline. Approximately five percent of the losses are written off by casino managers, causing some to wonder if American casinos' ability to assess credit risk is as good as it needs to be.
The United States: A Criminal Justice Society
Although shame plays a part in American culture, the sentiment is not as pervasive as it is in China. Perhaps this is why a website like Wonderful World has not taken hold in America as it has in China. Guilt and criminal justice are two modalities of control more likely to be used in the U.S. than shame, hence the multitude of court cases against those who owe money to casinos in Nevada.
Notable Gambling Debt Cases
The following are just a few examples of gambler debt criminal cases in the U.S.
- In 2009, major league ex-pitcher Shawn Chacon was arrested for writing three bad checks to Caesars Palace in Las Vegas totaling $50,000.
- In 2010, Terrance Watanabe, who owed Harrah's Entertainment a $14 million, settled his debt with the company in confidentiality. Watanabe claimed that the casino had helped him into debt by supplying him with endless liquor and prescription painkillers during a gambling binge in 2007.
- In 2011, German gambler Konstantin Zoggolis sued Wynn Las Vegas, saying he should not have to pay the $1.3 million he owed the company because he had previously submitted to a credit line limit of $250,000.
- In 2012, former NFL star Joey Porter was arrested for writing a bad check to the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas. He was released shortly thereafter when he paid the $70,000 debt.
Gambling debt is a global problem. Different countries have different ways of dealing with it. Time will tell if China's shaming website is a truly effective way of getting deadbeat gamblers to take care of their tabs.